By Madeline Bocaro
I will always remember the scenes from Kurosawa’s film Dreams depicting Vincent Van Gough (played by Martin Scorcese – with visual effects by George Lucas) running amidst the landscapes of his own paintings. In Loving Vincent, we have a unique moving masterpiece telling the story Vincent’s life and death, each frame painted in his style as if they are his very own impressions.
It took six years to create 65,000 paintings by 125 artists taught in Van Gogh’s style, which comprise every frame of the film.
Through shadow and light, in fluid yet flickering movement there are starry nights and stormy days, gardens, the wheatfield with crows, rooms and boats on a river. Shades from Vincent’s palette – most strikingly his iconic yellows and blues – light up the skies and scenery. Everything looks realistic but for the extremely large stars twinkling and bursting like fireworks as they do in his paintings. Human characters are hauntingly followed by their own looming shadows, which are not as perceptible in actual life.
The film takes place one year after Vincent’s suicide, exploring his life through an investigation of his death. The premise is that it might have been murder. Van Gogh’s friend, the Postman entrusts his son to deliver Vincent’s final letter (one of hundreds) written to this brother Theo. His son discovers that Theo passed away just 6 months after Vincent died. His mission then changes to delivering the letter to Theo’s widow who has been compiling all of Vincent’s letters for a book.
Monochromatic (also painted) flashback scenes highlight Van Gogh’s underlying trauma – his mother’s grief for an older brother, also named Vincent who was stillborn. The young Vincent could never replace his dead brother in his mother’s affections. After failing at most things in life Vincent decides to become a painter at age 27. His brother Theo is his supporter and savoir.
The postman’s son meets many people in Vincent’s life. The central characters include his dear friend doctor Gachet (also a struggling artist who strove to copy the perfection of Vincent’s art) who comes to life emerging from Vincent’s portrait of him. Gachet’s daughters (Vincent’s love interests) describe his time living in their home during his final days in Auberge Ravoux in Auvers-sur-Oise near Paris.
Those who knew Vincent eagerly speak of his odd yet highly sensitive character. Some called him crazy and evil, yet most knew of his madness. He was taunted by young boys and constantly tormented by a so-called friend. His cohabitation in Paris with the painter Gauguin ended in violence anger.
Vincent started painting at age 27 and had completed over 800 oil paintings in the ten years before his death at age 37 in 1890, most of them in his final two years. He died just one year after painting The Starry Night, and in the same year that he painted Wheatfield With Crows. Vincent Van Gogh only sold one painting in his lifetime.
The film closes with a shimmering scene depicting Starry Night Over the Rhone raging in dark blue with yellow stars, to the soundtrack of Don McClean’s beautiful song ‘Vincent (Starry, Starry Night)’.
“Now I understand
What you tried to say to me
And how you suffered for your sanity
Tried to set them free
…The world was never meant for one as beautiful as you.”
See the trailer here…
And here is how it was done…
The art form of film is different from painting. Painting is one particular moment in time, frozen. Film is fluid, seeming to move through space and time. So first we had a Painting Design team spend one-year re-imagining Vincent’s painting into the medium of film. These paintings, along with the storyboard and Computer Generated Layout Animatic formed the basis on which to plan our live action shoot.
All the characters in Loving Vincent are performed by real actors either on specially constructed sets, designed to look like Vincent’s paintings, or against Green Screens with the Loving Vincent Design Paintings composited in through a live view system on the set.
The live action material was then combined with Computer Animation for elements such as birds, horses, clouds and blowing leaves and composited together with the Design Paintings to create the Reference Material for the Painting Animation.
The painting animators used the reference material as the basis for the layout of their first frame, and the movement of the shot. The painting animators task was to transform this reference material into Vincent van Gogh’s painting style, and then to re-create the movement of the shot through animating each brushstroke.
Once a frame is complete the painting animator takes a 6k resolution digital still, and then starts work on the next frame. There are over 65,000 frames in the film. At the end of each shot we are left with a painting of the last frame of the shot. There are 898 shots in the film.